The Story of Unexpected Inspiration That Led to My First Book

Elli poses timidly in her horse-riding outfit

I wrote before I painted. I was never that kid who was known for drawing well or seen as the artist. I had a best friend in junior high and high school who was this person, but I was known as the smart kid who got good grades.

I didn't act like an artist. I was always on time, very strategic, and calculating. I was not a free spirit or driven by creativity. I was driven by results and efficiency. With my academic success, love for school, learning, and overachievement, I was on the fast track for a job that required some degrees.

But God interrupted that when I asked him for a talent at age 15.

He gave me art.

It wasn't a talent for numbers, sports, singing, acting, history, politics, debate, or anything else. It was creating something visual on a canvas. God took my childhood zeal for coloring and turned it into a full-fledged career and then an art school that would affect thousands of artists all over the world.

I never could have imagined such a thing. God took my profound love for my Prismacolor pencil box and my first experience in an art supply store and turned those moments of wonder into owning an art supply store and innovating art supplies.

All I had was passion. No talent or even an inkling that I could be an artist as a profession. For me, art was truly a gift from heaven.

Writing, however, was much more of an early passion and creative outlet. It began in the third grade when I wrote a poem about my horse and won a writing contest. I continued to write rhyming poems until I was a teenager.

Then I started to believe rhyming was for kids and turned to weird, dark poetry and prose. Poetry was my way of processing my angsty teenage drama. I could encode my dark feelings of depression, self-hate, and suicide into a poem and release them from my soul and onto paper. I knew what I meant when I wrote about "sleep."

Thankfully, at 15, art (and, ultimately, the Giver of this gift) saved me. Art replaced writing, and the identity I carried as poet morphed into something new. I left writing behind in the depths of my past darkness. After that, I never really thought about writing or felt any urge to write. All of my inspiration was directed at painting and building a business.

My Family's Creative Legacy

Elli looks out over the sea in Greece

My Greek grandfather was known as a writer. The whole family regarded him as some kind of Greek celebrity. His writing was academic. He wrote textbooks and encyclopedias—nothing creative, poetic, or story-based.

My Greek grandmother was known as an artist within the family. She painted hundreds of paintings that were semi-okay if you liked Greek versions of Bob Ross paintings. Instead of happy trees, she painted happy sheep in the fields.

My dad spent his life talking about how, when he retired, he would write books. His dream was to buy a sailboat, live among the Greek islands, and write books.

Somewhere lodged far down in my spirit, I always knew there was a book in me. But it stayed buried until July 4th, 2017.

Infected with the Writing Bug

I have no explanation for what happened to me except that I caught writing a book like a virus. Three days before July 4th, I was walking from the studio to my house and saw a woman waiting for her daughter to finish her art class with one of our instructors. We started making small talk, and I knew she was a writer by profession. She wrote vampire romance novels, and I was curious about her process. She told me about how she constructs a book and can just keep creating the characters and storylines at will.

"That's fascinating! You don't get bored or have creative blocks?"

"No, I take my iPad everywhere and write chunks while I wait to pick the kids up from school or at their games or classes. Writing is a daily constant habit for me," she explained. "I have a great publisher who keeps me busy, and it earns a living."

The Inexplicable Call to Write

Fireworks being shot over a body of water

I didn't think much of the conversation until three days later. I was having some friends over to watch the fireworks for 4th of July. Our house had a great view of Schnepf Farms where they shot off a beautiful firework show every year.

As if I caught the flu from the writer mom, I started to feel a burning and rumbling in my stomach. It was a squeezy feeling that I could not ignore. I felt a deep urge to write. I had no idea what to write and couldn't even form words. It was a bizarre, undeniable desire to sit with my computer and type. There was something inside of me violently churning and rising to the surface, and I knew the only way it could come out was through my fingers onto the keyboard.

I denied it and pushed it away because we had friends over. But as the moments passed, this feeling became stronger and more insistent. Do I have the flu? Am I experiencing some kind of spiritual possession? Do I have parasites? What is happening to me?

I could not figure it out, but I became super antsy, and everything in me wanted my friends to leave so I could write. The second the fireworks ended, I told everyone I was getting tired and it would be an early night. As they began picking up their things and moving towards the door, I could feel this thing, this alien inside of me, stretching, climbing upwards past my belly and approaching my throat.

Am I going to throw up right here in front of everyone? I could hardly speak or stand still or contain it one more second. I could burst or implode or maybe projectile vomit. I didn't understand what was happening to me. I started to shake. I ran for my computer as John closed the door behind our friends.

Stories Worth Telling

I sat on the couch with my computer on my lap, Pages open, and the cursor blinking. What in the heck am I gonna write? What is this? I reasoned that I should write a synopsis about a book I would write if I were to write a book. I started to write a synopsis for a parenting book. As I wrote, I could feel a flow of this strange and foreign urge. Once the synopsis was written, I still had the feeling, and it wouldn't go away. I knew I couldn't sleep.

A parenting book is NOT it. So boring. So I decided I would write a list of stories worth telling. I thought back from my earliest memories to the present and made a list of 12 stories that I thought were big moments in my life.

Once all the story ideas were written out and I looked at my list, I could see a thread through them. I saw a book! I saw that my life told one big story. A story of never giving up, affirming that all things work towards good.

I saw one unified theme: Failures forge us forward toward success and not backward toward settling into complacency. Failure is actually a driver and our best teacher. Fear of ever trying is our true enemy and guarantees permanent failure.

I saw that my life had purpose and significance. It was wild and colorful and unique. Every moment of pain could remind you that you are not alone, and every triumph could build belief and confidence in you that it is worth it.

Seventeen Days of Writing

Elli Milan types on a laptop

The feeling subsided long enough for me to sleep. The next morning, the moment my eyes opened and I came through the veil into awareness, the feeling hit hard. I immediately jumped to my feet, grabbed my computer, and began to write. I wrote all day until dinner time. I had written a chapter.

The next day, I wrote again and finished another chapter. Each night, I would read a chapter to my family and hear their feedback. I would begin the next day, adjusting what I had written and then write another chapter. After 17 days, I finished my book. The churning and rumbling in my stomach left after 17 days, and I haven't felt it since.

Unemployable has been edited and re-written and tweaked again and again until we published it in October 2022.

The Muse's Grip

Elli Milan displays her book, Unemployable: The Odyssey of an Artist

Writing this book was a profound experience that I will never forget. I had an encounter with the Muse on a whole different level. I saw an expression of this creative spirit that I had never known. When I paint, I feel its presence softly and subtly, gently guiding me like a flowing stream.

But when I wrote Unemployable, the Muse chased me down and tackled me to the floor with a violent urgency. It burst out of me like a rushing rapid river, crashing and turning from edge to edge. I was only a small floating stick with hardly a will that was carried into the white water of this process. I was often submerged, blinded to everything else in my life. It was 17 days of a gushing flow until it suddenly stopped into quiet, tranquil waters, and I could live my life again.

I am grateful for this experience. I am grateful God apprehended me and pulled this book from me. I hope it inspires you and shows you your destiny is profound and worth living. You, too, have a passion and a purpose and were meant for greatness. May fear subside and resistance fail. May you persevere and never give up until your dreams come true and your life becomes a beautiful poem in the Book of Life.

Share your story in the comments!


  • dorothea photinidis

    You Are a writer Eli – you grip a reader from the first words you set down, Art runs through your veins whatever you do. I admire you, as I recognize myself in you and I applaud your tenacity and form. You drew me in with the first email you wrote me in Greek, now I a quiet Mastery student of your school. Love the whole Milan family xx
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    Dorothea. That’s so kind! Thank you!

  • Ron Davis

    Enjoyed your book when it first came out. It inspired me to draw again.
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    That’s wonderful to hear! I’m so glad.

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